Spirited Discussion on Issues Facing African-Americans in Cleveland
Cross Honored with Stephanie Tubbs Jones Foundation Scholarship
BY DORETHA WELLS
OCT. 14, 2010
On Oct. 5, a panel forum held in the memory of late Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones at Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs turned into a lively discussion on contemporary issues facing African-American communities in Cleveland.
The public forum started with the giving of the Stephanie Tubbs Jones scholarship award to Catheryn Cross by Melvyn Jones II, CEO and president of the foundation. Cross graduated from Spellman College in May 2010 and is currently in her first year at CSU’s Marshall College of Law. The foundation scholarship will cover a portion of her tuition and books.
“To whom much is given, much is required,” said Cross. “Utilize your skills and tools to becoming social change agents within the community.”
The speakers included Kevin Gaines, author and professor of history at University of Michigan; Teresa Metcalf Beasley, a lawyer; Renee T. Cavor, of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District; James Hardiman, legal director ACLU-Ohio; and Shakyra Diaz, education director ACLU. The forum was moderated by Betty Pinkney, who is the district director in the office of late Congresswoman Jones. Barbara Walker, sister of the late congresswoman, was also in attendance.
Kevin Gaines, the keynote speaker, began the discussion by recalling the work of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker and Mayor Carl Stokes of Cleveland. The focus of his speech was on leadership, politics and accountability.
“Cleveland in 1967 was a “seething cauldron of hostility,” from the Hough Riots to the issue of segregation in schools, we were in a war, a revolution of values, rejection of racism and materialism,” said Gaines.
Gaines challenged the panelists by asking, “How should we approach accountability today?”
“I am a product of Cleveland public schools,” said James Hardiman, “and I sued the Cleveland public schools. We still see it today: separate but unequal education in the school system.”
Renee Cavor responded: “I was before and after the bus ride a product of busing, but I have come back. Not only have I come back, but I have come back to education,” she said.
Cavor revealed to the forum that schools with 44104 zip codes are not getting the same education and resources as those in zip codes 44124.
“The funding for education is based on property taxes,” explained Cavor. “Urban education is the new civil rights issue….all schools are [majority] black except for four with 75 percent blacks, 13 percent Hispanics and 12 percent Caucasians.” Graduation rate in CMSD schools is 54 percent with an average ACT score of 16 when a minimum of 21 is required for college admissions. Cavor argued, “So goes education, so goes our nation.” Cavor believes that everyone should be held accountable for children’s education including politicians, faith based organizations, businesses, and corporations.
Policing in the city was also a hot topic of discussion among the panelists. Ohio is ranked seventh in the country for its overabundant amount of prisoners, half of which are black. We incarcerate two-thirds more than any of the other states in the nation.
Teresa Beasley explained that the problem with policing is associated with what she described as changes from “walking the beat to patrolling the beat.”
“Yesterday they walked the beat, everybody knew everybody even the kids ran up to police,” explained Beasley. “Today kids run from the police, people don’t trust police.”
“If they have their nightstick out and you hit your head on it, it is your fault and in 2010 we still have some police officers that don’t respect black people,” said Hardiman. In response to Professor Gaines’ challenge, the panelists acknowledged that emphasis must be put on the community’s accountability, or lack of.
For example, in the case of multiple homicide accused Anthony Sowell, “The mayor was being held accountable, so he appointed three ladies to examine policies and procedures, look at other cities and make recommendations after Sowell was apprehended. The end result was a 900 page report citing the need for an oversight committee,” said Beasley.
According to Beasley, “there are three sides to every story, his side-her side- and the truth. In the Sowell case, the community must be held accountable: there is no way nobody over there did not know what was going on.” She also cites the many avenues residents can take to report crime and police misconduct: take the approach of not taking no for an answer when reporting these type of activities.
“Some police are talkers use your cell phones, Youtube and other tools in the media to advocate for a change.” said Gaines.
Shakyra Diaz held the audience captive with her alarming statistics and her keep-it-real attitude.
“Let’s keep it real; yes we have moved past some of our ugly past we still have a long ways to go,” said Diaz. “There is a lot of activity downtown at the Justice Center. You can’t talk about it, Cleveland Police officers, you have to be about it. When it comes to accountability we all play a different role and in playing that role “I should be a partner and I deserve respect.”
Diaz felt that the current use of metal detectors in schools is training children for prison. “Training to be a good inmate is when you have children walking through metal detectors everyday and being searched-they are in inmate training instead of school,” said Diaz. She concluded with emphasis on the need to foster dignity and respect with fully heated buildings and toilet paper in the restrooms. “The little things like that are what make us think we are worthy..participate and be aware, these things are going on now, we are not talking about 1964, today it is just a slave by a different name,” said Diaz.
“What I enjoyed most about this forum is how the speaker Ms. Diaz spoke about the real issues in CSMD and the city of Cleveland,” said Allison Kennedy a CSU social work major.
CSU Alumni Meredith Turner who is currently working as a Constituent Services Liaison in the Office of Senator Sherrod Brown said “The statistics were alarming, she was impressed with the expertise of the panelists. There was no sugar coating it was right to the crust and included some possible solutions. I was very satisfied and can’t wait to take some of this stuff back to the office to see what we can do to be a part of the solution.”
Because the audience was captivated in the Q&A portion of the forum, Betty Pinkney the moderator of the panel closed the discussion saying, “I am grateful and thankful to bring the discussion of emerging black leadership; accountability in law, politics and public education- from the Sowell case to the warehouse district and even the transformation of the CMSD.”